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Ysleta del Sur Pueblo begins new growth with the community garden

story by Donnie Lunsford

The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, a federally recognized Native American Tribe, is getting back to its roots. In 1682 the Tribe settled on the banks of the Rio Grande River near what is now El Paso growing corn and other plants and vegetables for their survival. Now, over 330 years later, the Tribe makes a strong effort to pass on gardening and healthy eating practices to the next generation.

Those efforts were recently boosted when the Tribe worked with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to construct a seasonal high tunnel at the Pueblo’s education center. The high tunnel’s location at the entrance to the Pueblo village will

Gloria And Juan Jimenez look on with Ben Wissinger, NRCS planner, at the construction of hoop house.
Evaristo Cruz, Environmental Director, set the base for a water tank with two of the participants.
More than 50 people came to help with the construction of a High tunnel for the community garden.
The completed hoop house witht he volunteers , community, and builders.

provide the opportunity for Tribal children to learn how to tend crops, where food is grown, and enjoy fresh produce to take home.

Evaristo Cruz, Environmental and Natural Resources Department Director for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, said anyone can come out and assist in this community garden. The Tribe has also decided to install a large water tank to help with the irrigation of these crops. This high tunnel is much smaller in size than what a commercial farmer would install, but still allows a tractors inside for tillage, spraying, and planting.

“Our hope is to get our community involved,” said Cruz. “Our young people have grown up in an urban setting. With the encroachment of El Paso, some of our young people think the grocery store is where food comes from. Hopefully this will get them to understand our heritage and how farming is very important. We also have people from other tribal departments, so all of the cogs on the wheel see’s what the others do.”

A community garden by the library has already been constructed and in place to help the children in the after school program’s education center learn to tend a garden and learn the benefits first hand of their efforts. The high tunnel will add to the ability to grow later with the changing seasons and adds to the community garden program.

Processed foods and fast foods are a common part of life today but food is what powers us said Miriam Fematt, Health Education Coordinator for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. “Our food is sovereign coming from the earth and the participants that choose to help will be able to learn how to grow plants and also learn the nutritional value in fresh vegetables.

We need volunteers to help support these community gardens and hopefully we will find that with this extra tool we have at our disposal,” says Fematt.

The seasonal high tunnel construction was completed in seven hours as part of a farmer and rancher workshop. The workshop gave classroom information that could be taken back to their own land, with a hands-on experience to see the construction of a high tunnel.

“Working with the community and the two counties I serve, I see more people that are comfortable to walk through my door. Today we had three nonprofit organizations that see more opportunity for their organization to work with the USDA-NRCS,” said Francisco Molinar.

Not only did this event help the tribal and local community, it gave them more options and information that will help them in their own agriculture operation. For assistance on developing a conservation plan or information, visit the USDA-NRCS office or visit our website at